This image started as a jumble mess of information. Let me show you how a few techniques can draw emphasis and tension to the photo. Below is the original image – titled Whats the Point, straight out of the camera. Lets point out a few things that are wrong with the image, then we will go into how to clean it up and make it a winner.
1. Too much distraction. The distraction comes from a lot of places. that Rainforest Cafe sign is the first thing that draws my eye. But why? Because it is bright in both color and exposure. Bright things in a frame draw the eye, don’t ever forget this rule. Sharp focus and bright exposure/color always draw your eye. So, with that in mind what else draws your eye? YUP! That damn sky does. Its going to have to go. It’s really competing for frame dominance.
2. Subject placement. The subject right now is… is… what? Nothing! There is no subject. Your eye floats through the frame probably back to front and front to back laterally (there is a reason why you do this) but there isn’t much to anchor your eye which means there isn’t much that anchors this particular scene. The subject (that I want) is smack in the middle, and losing the competition battle, 1. because of lack of brightness and focus but also because of 2. Placement. I will show you how to clean this up as well.
3. Leading lines. These actually are pretty good… IF you want to direct people to the back of the trolley!!! This is the reason you move your eye laterally through the frame. How many lines are there? Lets start from the top. There is the trolley line, the top of the trolley structure, the top of the window frame, the top/middle window frame, the bottom window frame, the red/white line on the trolley body, the bottom of the trolley and the red curb that all travel laterally thought the frame. Those are a lot of lines. Those draw the eye. To properly use these to draw you through the frame they are going to need a little reinforcement in post. Those motion lines however are exactly what I wanted to go for. Those blurry parts of the trolley create movement both in the static image and for your eye throughout the frame. BUT those need some love as well.
Now that we have a bit of a road map to follow lets dive into fixing it up. I am going to use Adobe Lightroom for all of these fixes. In reality there are plenty of programs that you can do these fixes in.
1. Lets start with placement. This is the most simple edit that we can do and yet one of the MOST important you can EVER do. THE CROP. For this image in particular we use the power of seclusion to help fix 2/3 of the problems identified above. Placement. The subject is now on a nice 1/3 line anchoring the image. The middle of the frame just wasn’t working. Distraction. This crop completely removes the Rainforest Cafe sign and a majority of the bright background at the rear of the trolley. True you lose a great leading line with the nice bright red curb, but this is the better crop. Without a doubt.
Next lets bring back some of that color. The colors are nice and bright, so lets use those and brighten up this scene a tad. If not for the image as a whole but especially to help draw that focus onto the subject (remember that the brighter and sharper an object the more it attracts the eye). Right now there are still a few things that are pulling the eye away from my subject. The now blown out top/rear of the trolley and the bright white in the window as well as the sharp people in the reflection. Lets touch those up.
There isn’t a gigantic difference between this adjustment and the one above but there is an important one that goes a long way. I used local adjustment brushes in Lightroom to blur the out a majority of the frame just a little bit. This is already making a huge difference in where your eye lands. You really can’t help but discover the subject, float around the frame,then go right back. I also added some exposure compensation to the terrific brick road to brighten that up. This helps add location information. There is now no doubt that this is a street and that bright orange thing must be a bus or trolley. There is still some distraction however so lets see what else I can do to make the subject more pronounced.
The final added step to this image is a vignette. A vignette is a darkening or lightening of the outer frame, usually in a rounded style. This does a couple of things. A vignette naturally pulls you towards the middle of the frame, which happens to be my now brighter and sharper (compared to the rest of the frame) subject. It also helps to tone down those wildly bright highlights in the top left. You can now see the blue sky and the cable attachment (recovering another diagonal, YAY!).
Whats the Point
So. There you have it. With a few minor adjustments the image goes from distraction mine field to a clear subject with enough information to thoroughly place you into the picture.